Unraveling the Pollinating Secrets of a Bee's Buzz

New York Times  By Carl Zimmer   7/11/13

Now is the time of year when bees buzz from flower to flower. And for many plants, the very survival of their species depends on that buzz. The flowers and the insects are joined together in a partnership of sound.

Bumblebees and other insects use buzzing to shake pollen out of flowers for food — and they fertilize flowers along the way. Scientists are exploring this acoustic feat to figure out how it has evolved, and how it helps sustain our own food supply.

Flowering plants typically reproduce by delivering pollen to each other to fertilize seeds. Some flowers, like corn and ragweed, cast their pollen to the wind. Others depend on animals like bees, bats or birds to do the job.

In many cases, these flowers lure an animal with the reward of nectar. As the pollinator sips the plant’s sugary liquid, it gets covered in pollen. It then travels to another flower in search of nectar and delivers the grains.

But 20,000 plant species — including familiar ones like tomatoes, potatoes and cranberries — strike a different deal. They offer pollen itself as food. These flowers don’t simply put the protein-rich pollen out for any animal to eat...